A three-day whirlwind small production vineyard and winery tour hosted by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance culminated each day in a lavish food and wine pairing at the area’s finest restaurants. The chefs at Artisan, Il Cortile, and Thomas Hill Organics were each given four wines and challenged to create complementary courses for each of them.
Our first tasting was at Artisan, a long, cool restaurant with dark polished wood tables, immaculate linens, and lighting that flatters people of a certain age. The service was professional, solicitous, and unhurried (which, given the size of our huge party, was an impressive feat in itself). The name Artisan was a harbinger of things to come: all the dishes were artfully plated and exceptionally inviting.
Each course was accompanied by an introduction from the vineyard owner or winemaker, and first up was kindly, avuncular, and highly respected Ken Volk, of Kenneth Volk Vineyards, who has been mentoring new generations of vintners for several decades. The much-awarded former owner and creator of Wild Horse Winery is one of the driving forces behind the remarkably collegial Paso Robles wine community.
Volk brought his 100 percent verdelho 2012, a light, floral, semi-aromatic white which holds its acidity and tastes of citrus and light tropical fruit with a pleasing hit of minerality. It goes beautifully with seafood. Chef Kobayashi paired it with a trio of oysters Rockefeller. Anyone old enough to remember this somewhat stodgy dish from the days of “continental” restaurants would be astonished by this light and airy iteration: a whisper of béchamel, a tangle of barely wilted greens, a lightly cooked oyster, an excellent pairing for Volk’s verdelho.
Next up was Edmond August Sauret of Edmond August Wines, with his 2011 Anthology Red, a wonderfully aromatic, food-friendly Rhône-style blend of 69 percent grenache, 16 percent syrah, 8 percent tannat, and 7 percent cinsault. Sauret is a small-production winemaker, and works with Jacob Toft to create his well-priced, approachable blends.
Chef Kobayashi chose to pair the 2011 Anthology with delicately seasoned wild boar medallions nested in a flawless fennel risotto with feta and mostarda. A very good combination indeed. Frankly, I think this wine could be served with almost any food and do well.
The third course featured a 2009 Mare Nectaris from Rich Hartenberger’s Midnight Winery and Vineyard, a velvety Bordeaux-style blend of 25 percent each of merlot, Malbec, and cabernet franc, with 13 percent cabernet sauvignon and 12 percent petit verdot to build structure and complexity. It’s an elegant wine, redolent of dark fruit and chocolate. At $52, it is a bargain. Chef Kobayashi offered a riff on beef short ribs, moist slices served off the bone on a pool of horseradish-inflected mashed potatoes. This wine would stand up to a gutsier, more classically unctuous version of the dish, but didn’t overpower this more delicate rendition.
The final wine was a 2010 “Opaque,” a silky, dark, fruit-forward, soft-style malbec from charming and prolific third-generation winemaker Santo Riboli of San Antonio Winery. San Antonio’s main winery is actually located in Los Angeles, but the fruit for this well-priced, dessert-friendly wine was sourced from Paso’s well-respected Irick Vineyards. The family, which produces a variety of wine at every price point under different labels, also maintains a tasting room in downtown Paso Robles.
Chef Kobayashi chose to pair this malbec with a slightly pungent, rinded goat cheese. An alternative pairing might have been a poached pear with a balsamic-malbec reduction or a flourless ganache cake to showcase the wine’s yummy chocolate notes.